Present Tense

I have seen the way that tree bends. Specifically one of the largest, oldest trees of its particular species east of the Mississippi.  I’ve admired how gracefully the tree has aged, from a seed wondering why it grows, to the graceful, weathered, austere presence it is today. I’m sure its days of wondering are far behind it; now it endures powerful storms, lost limbs and branches, but remains deeply, firmly rooted in the rich, riverbed soil.

I also have an idea on how this life ends, that the road ahead does ascend off into the light, the last road on this all-encompassing trip.  In terms of philosophizing and theorizing, it helps me to picture something tangible, like a road, or a tree, because I’m part of that landscape as well.  And it helps “Present Tense” to talk about studying lines on one’s hands, to connect its thoughtful examination on how one approaches life year after year to aspects of physical reality. This is one of the lessons artists are constantly struggling to learn: how to connect the fascinating realities of the mind with the fascinating realities of the world outside of one’s thoughts and feelings.

I’m reluctant to call “Present Tense” a landmark Pearl Jam song simply because I feel like a broken record, specifically a broken No Code record.  But No Code did provide 13 different new directions for the band to travel at a critical point in their development as musicians and as a unit.  “Present Tense” to me represents the culmination of Mike McCready’s fruitful obsession with grand, sweeping rock epics, a point from which he then deviated on Yield, but returned to as recently as “Inside Job”.  The song moves gracefully from section to section like a suite, building in intensity, diminishing into sparkling guitar flourishes.

The song was a landmark for me as well too, hearing it for the first time just before my senior year of high school, where I was simultaneously advised to both live in the present tense, and sweat my future hard.  I listened to “Present Tense” first on headphones, on a hotel bed in Saratoga Springs, having spent the day visiting colleges. The tumult and uplift of that album crystallized in “Present Tense” as thoughts raced through my head about who I was, who I was supposed to be.  And not to put too fine a point on it, because phrases like “that song really helped me” usually make my teeth shiver, but “Present Tense”… let’s say it was a fine model, a vote of confidence, a lesson not to re-digest past regrets but to build and grow and evolve and roll like the wave of sound supplied by the band.


~ by Michael on August 9, 2007.

10 Responses to “Present Tense”

  1. Well then, I’ll call “Present Tense” a landmark song. For some reason, I’ve been unable to get “No Code” out of my CD player for three straight days. And I’m not one of those Pearl Jam fans who listens to the band every minute of every day. I go in streaks, like most of us, but it seems that this time around “No Code” and “Present Tense” specifically has stuck like glue.

    I love the way the song starts slowly with Mike’s sparse intro, Ed’s soft delivery. And then by the end, the song just explodes…Pearl Jam at their most cohesive, I think. I never tire of this song. I don’t like to use overused phrases like “uplifting” and “inspirational”, but in the case of this song, both words fit perfectly.

  2. Ditto to everything you guys wrote. A song I loved from first listen, and that I love more and more with each passing year.

    I especially love the arrangement now, with Matt’s drums coming in earlier, with that sort of “tribal” sounding beat … love the way the song builds until that release of the outro.

    Love the lyrics. Especially the second verse. There’s something otherworldly and spiritual about it.

    anyway, I’m rambling. It’s been a long day. But I didn’t want the glory that is Present Tense to go unheeded. If I think of more cohesive thoughts later, I’ll post them.

  3. Allow me to pick up the ramblin’ where slightto left off. It’s my specialty. I’m a ramblin’ guy! Classic Steve Martin banjo tune. I highly recommend. “Present Tense” was my first favorite No Code song…it inspired me to cheat on my girlfriend…well, it helped me justify and feel less guilty about cheating on my girlfriend…who later became my fiance when I proposed during my speech at the law school graduation ceremony…and later still, found out about my present tense trist, at which point she stopped being my fiance…despite all my explanations and entreaties to “just listen to the song!!”…it made perfect present tense sense to me then, and always will. I had even given No Code as a gift to the “other woman”. I wonder if she ever listens to it? That’s all my ramblin’ for now…back to you Steve…

  4. A few years a ago my aunt’s mother died. It was sudden and unexpected. They had a lot of love for eachother, but the relationship was a rocky one. Her grief was devastating, and eventually lead to a serious clinical depression. It was during this time that she discovered No Code, and PRESENT TENSE bacame her song. It remained so during the long recovery period and remains so to this day.

    There is something spiritual about it SoJ. Like a luminous thread woven into the murky fabric of one’s life.

  5. This is a great song.

  6. I was just listening to No Code, and I can’t help but feel that the music to PRESENT TENSE does not really sound like Mike. It sounds like the type of epic Ed writes. C13, do you know for sure that Mike wrote it?

  7. It says McCready/Vedder in the No Code liner notes which would lead one to believe Mike wrote the music, Ed the words. But maybe Ed did contribute to the music too and since he already owns half the song as the lyricist/vocalist in the McCready/Vedder acknowledgement, maybe they didn’t want to write McCready, Vedder/Vedder.

    Either way, the one name song writing credits can be deceiving since all band members write their own parts and contribute to the song writing for almost every song. (I know that some songs are brought in 90% completed in demo form, but that didn’t start until Yield and has currently ended with Riot Act) Maybe Mike wrote the riff and that was all it took for him to get full credit.

    In this case, I think Mike wrote a fairly large part of “Present Tense” because I recall Ed saying something like “This is a songs that I wish I wrote”. Or maybe Jeff said that. Stone?

  8. Thanks BYM. PRESENT TENSE wasn’t one of my cards. They’ve been together so long that I’m sure that they know eachother’s styles intimately. Still, it just sounds like Ed to me. I think that the “I wish I wrote that” comment referred to INSIDE JOB. I can’t remember which show, though.

  9. I like this song

  10. For me, I thought I had heard everything by Pearl jam, had my favorite songs established and this song just shook everything else up.

    Its so powerful.

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